Powers of X #5 VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R. B. Silva (artist) September 25, 2019 Marvel Comics House of X and Powers of X are experiences that intensify as we experience them. It is an act of trust for Jonathan Hickman to write an X-Men comic
Powers of X #5
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R. B. Silva (artist)
September 25, 2019
House of X and Powers of X are experiences that intensify as we experience them. It is an act of trust for Jonathan Hickman to write an X-Men comic that includes conversations about trading companies, lists of council members with black bricks of redacted text, and zero fight scenes. He trusts us with a comic like Powers of X #5, the third-to-last issue in this whole crazy adventure, because if we’ve come this far then we must trust him as well.
How fitting that Charles Xavier’s story in Powers of X #5 begins and ends with him surrounded by water—in Forge’s spectacular aquarium, and the undersea kingdom of Atlantis—because reading this comic feels like a full-body submersion. Xavier is building a new world, so some deep world-building is required. “Can it be done?” he asks in the very first panel. He’s specifically asking Forge about upgrading Cerebro so he can upload copies of every mutant mind on the planet, but that question is also the root of the miniseries. Can it be done? Can Krakoa succeed? Can Xavier and the X-Men save mutants from the threat of extinction, and bring on the “Dawn of X”? We remember Cyclops’ response in Powers of X #2: “Does it need doing? Then it will be done.”
As one of the founding fathers of Krakoa, Xavier is the character in Powers of X that intrigues me the most. In the Year One sequence, R. B. Silva draws him with a sharp, Machiavellian quality. Xavier’s dramatic eyebrow game has always been on point, but those arches outdo themselves here. Does Xavier look wicked, or just wickedly clever? Uploading millions of minds to the cloud is an audacious plan, the first step in the mutagenic miracle that will eventually conquer death. Then I realized why Xavier looks so strange to me—it’s because I can see his eyes. It’s only been ten weeks, but Cerebro crowning Xavier’s head already feels like a definitive look for the character, a design choice so simple and perfect that it feels like it should always have been this way.
Next is a scene that could have easily fallen apart, but is instead a skillful joining of characterization and setting. Magneto and Xavier meet Emma Frost in the Louvre, roping her and the Hellfire Company into Krakoa’s future. The location is important; they stand in the presence of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a sculpture of marred triumph that feels eloquently symbolic for mutantkind. This is a load-bearing scene, setting up the premise for the Marauders series that will feature Emma, as well as using superhero-unfriendly words like “shell corporations” and “economic interests.” These conversations could have stopped the issue stone cold dead—remember the smile of childlike wonder that slid off your face when the Star Wars prequels started talking about trade federations and senate meetings?
But this works because Hickman understands these characters, how they relate to each other, and the shadows that hang over any conversation about a new mutant nation. It works because Hickman wants us to understand how Krakoa works; it makes the paradigm shift feel like a real, concrete thing. (The X-Men camping out in the middle of Central Park already feels like it happened a hundred years ago.) To steal a word from Magneto, this is no flash in a pan, but an inferno.
Hickman’s exhilaration with his favorite characters is also contagious. (If I’m remembering correctly, Gorgon’s had more appearances so far than Kitty Pryde.) Reader, I confess that I’ve been bored with Emma Frost for years. I tend to enjoy “what Emma does during an average Tuesday” tweet threads from her fans more than the bad girl vamping and bitchy quips that usually show up on the page. But look at how Silva depicts her utter disgust at the mention of Sebastian Shaw: he lets her be funny, when a lesser artist would have put generic “sexiness” before everything else. Hickman has X-ray eyes that see these characters right down to their bones. For a moment, at least, all my frustrations with the character were whipped away by the sight of Emma, a fantasy queen in a fur-lined cape, looking out at Krakoa and murmuring, “One more time, then. For the children.” That is everything that works about the character in a single image.
From the cliffside heights of Krakoa to the bottom of the ocean in Atlantis. We see Xavier’s psychic invitation to the mutants of the world, including many of the X-Men’s former enemies. We already know that many of them accept (and it’s gonna be real awkward when Magma and Selene both show up at Gambit’s pancake breakfast), but his first significant rejection comes from another leader. He fails to hook Namor, King of Atlantis, but what’s interesting is that it isn’t a political rejection, as with, say, Latveria. The radicalized Xavier is only now acting on truths Namor has already known (namely, that they’re better than everyone else), and he should come back only when he really means it. The pieces are set for Hickman’s very long game; we can feel the earth shifting under our feet as the rest of the Marvel Universe begins to recognize Krakoa.
In my review of House of X #1, I referred to this saga as a twelve-course banquet. Now that we’re near the end, dessert is being served.